Causing the Ball to Move – AT&T at Pebble Beach

More tour happenings that we can learn from. Maverick McNeally was doing well and facing a delicate pitch out of the rough with his ball lying precariously on top of the long grass. While he initially put his club down well behind the ball, when he went to play the stroke the ball toppled off its spot. Have a look at the incident on the tour’s twitter feed here:

The conversation is interesting as the referee tries to get to the facts of what happened. If the cameras hadn’t been rolling it is probably that only the player (and maybe their caddy) who would know what had actually happened – even playing partners are likely to be too far away to see. In this example the ball is not on the putting green where several exceptions apply (enough for a different entry so I won’t go in to detail here). The important thing though is trying to determine what caused the ball to move to a “known or virtually certain” standard. There are 4 possible causes covered in Rule 9.2 and these are as follows:

  1. Natural forces, such as wind or water (see Rule 9.3),
    • Play the ball as it now lies
    • No penalty
  2. The player, including the player’s caddie (see Rule 9.4),
    • Replace the ball in its original lie
    • 1 stroke penalty
  3. The opponent in match play, including the opponent’s caddie (see Rule 9.5), or
    • Replace the ball in its original lie
    • 1 stroke penalty for the opponent
  4. An outside influence, including any other player in stroke play (see Rule 9.6).
    • Replace the ball in its original lie

If you fail to replace the ball on its original spot and in its original lie when required to do so, you will have played from a wrong place and incur the General Penalty (2 strokes or loss of hole) instead of the 1 stroke penalty. Likewise if you replace the ball when it is deemed to have been moved by natural forces then you would incur the 1 stroke penalty for causing the ball to move which would become the general penalty if you then played it from that wrong place!

There are circumstances where you can cause your ball to move and not incur a penalty – these exceptions are:

  1. When you are allowed (or required) to lift or move the ball for any reason under the Rules
  2. If you accidentally cause the ball to move during a search.
  3. If you accidentally cause the ball to move on the putting green
  4. If you accidentally cause the ball to move while applying a rule (e.g. in the act of marking the position of the ball)

These exceptions also apply to an opponent in matchplay who causes your ball to move, and in addition they get no penalty when:

  1. They are allowed to lift your ball (e.g. to concede the next stroke or if you ask them to lift it)
  2. They marking and lift your ball on the putting green by mistake

Back to the video – while Maverick felt that he had been careful enough not to cause the ball to move, the video clearly shows that the ball moved as soon as he placed his club behind the ball to take a stroke. It is virtually certain that this action triggered the movement of the ball and so he was assessed a 1 stroke penalty and had to move the ball back to its original spot before playing his next stroke.

A reminder that there are more exceptions when your ball is on the putting green so only apply what you have read here in the other areas of the course.

And below an example from the final round – really difficult to tell when the ball moved by looking at the video. However Russell’s immediate reaction is that he “put his club behind the ball and the ball moved”. The ball then moving again some seconds later seems to have confused the referee into thinking there was a time gap between the action of the player and the movement of the ball. Daniel Berger’s query is most likely rooted in a desire for consistency rather than a wish for another competitor to incur a penalty.

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